Trust Regional Historic Environment Record
Copper Mine, Great Orme
Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 1694 Trust : Gwynedd Community : Llandudno Unitary authority : Conwy NGR : SH77078308 Site Type (preferred type first) : Prehistoric COPPER MINE Status : Scheduled Monument
Summary : The Bronze Age workings at the Great Orme copper mines include both underground galleries and opencast surface workings where the ore was removed from the soft host rock using hammerstones and bone and antler tools. Radiocarbon dates suggest that the surface workings are the oldest with dates around 1600 BC. The mines were also worked in the 19th century and the spoil from these later operations obscured and to some extent protected the prehistoric remains. In fact, miners in the 19th century reported cutting through earlier galleries which were, at that time, assumed to be Roman.
The main activity at the Great Orme mines dates to the middle Bronze Age, a time when the Welsh industry was flourishing. Despite this, to date no evidence of any large scale smelting on the Great Orme has been found. Neither do we know whether the mining was done by people living locally or by itinerant workers as no traces of associated settlement have been found.
Description : Excavations on the Vivian shaft on the Great Orme uncovered traces of prehistoric (Bronze Age) copper working. The excavation report is in progress. Site directed by L. A. Dutton. <1>
Report on 1990 season <7> Report on 1991 season <8> Report on 1989 season <10> <11>
Great Orme, Excavation Management, Llandudno (SH 771 831). Surface excavations continued at the Great Orme Bronze Age copper mines visitor site throughout the spring and summer of 1991 managed by Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. The excavations have provided an important and integral part of the interpretation and attraction of the overall site as a Bronze Age Mining Centre. The surface excavations closed for the season at the end of September and will continue in the spring of 2002.
The site is a logical extension to the area investigated by the trust during 1988/ 89 and has revealed a variety of new aspects relating to the exploitation of copper ores throughout the prehistoric period. Of particular note is the presence of a narrow prehistoric shaft that has provided the most well- preserved, complete and undisturbed evidence of working with bone tools in altered dolomite, and the remains of part of an enigmatic drystone structure associated with the shaft head. L.Dutton, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. <9>
Great Orme Bronze Age mine, Llandudno (SH 771 831). During the winter of 1991 the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust maintained a watching brief on the site of the bronze age copper mines on the Great Orme, Llandudno (on behalf of Great Orme Mines Ltd) during the removal and redistribution by machine of surface mining waste in the general vicinity of Vivians Shaft. Archaeological recording during this operation was mainly by way of photograph and annotated sketch plans and sections, orientated and supplemented by tape survey utilising the surviving site grid from the Vivians Shaft excavation of 1989.
Some 60,000 tonnes of waste material was removed over a three month period, revealing the rock surfaces of an extensive open cast working of the prehistoric period. Traces of revetting within areas of spoil were observed. A number of features associated with localised areas of working were revealed and recorded in the sides of the opencast, including undisturbed cashes of bone and stone tools. A report on the findings was submitted to Great Orme Mines Ltd on completion of the work. L.Dutton, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. <8>
Scheduled Ancient Monument: Cn 216 <15>
No evidence has been found of Roman mining activity on the Great Orme to date. This is a popular misconception based on spurious evidence. <32>
The Great Orme Copper Mines above Llandudno have an extensive complex of surface and underground workings exploiting copper ores in soft, easily worked strata. The true extent of mining operations here is unknown but it is believed to exceed 24,000 square metres, incorporating passages totalling more than five kilometres and penetrating a depth of seventy metres. (Gwyn and Davidson, 2012)
A radio-carbon date has been obtained from charcoal, which was mixed with waste country rock and vein-stuff, stacked on a ledge in Gallery B, about 25m below the surface. This material is probably debris from fire-setting. The date of 990 +- 80 bc (HAR-4845) indicates that the mine was being exploited during the late Bronze Age. (James 1985)